The following is an update from the Hoosier State Press Association and is provided as informational, not as an endorsement of their positions on these bills.

Legislative update for ICOG – Feb. 2

Following are bills that the Hoosier State Press Association, which represents the state’s paid-circulation newspapers, has identified that impact the ability of the public to know what state and local government is doing or contemplating. There are three statutes that are the pillars supporting government transparency:

  • The Open Door Law (I.C. 5-14-1.5) – This statute requires governing bodies of state and local government to meet in public sessions so Hoosiers can observe and record, with some exceptions outlined.
  • The Access to Public Records Act (I.C. 5-14-3) – This statute requires state and local government units to make its records available for copying and inspection, with some exceptions.
  • The Public Notice Advertising Law (I.C. 5-3-1) – This statute outlines the rules when the General Assembly has determined that certain information is so important to share with Hoosiers that it requires state or local government units, or sometimes citizens, to publish the information in local newspapers as a paid public notice.

2018 General Assembly

Open Door Law

H.B. 1258 – This bill does two things. First it adds clarifying language to help county commissioners determine what they can discuss in “administrative functions” meetings. These meetings are open to the public, but do not require 48 hours notice.

The concept is to allow the three-headed county executive the opportunity to meet with staff, department heads, etc., in a similar fashion as a mayor, who would not be subject to the Open Door Law. Current law outlines items that can not be done by commissioners in this type of meeting, but gives no direction as to what can be done.

The second item is making it clear in the Access to Public Records Act that the public has the right to electronic versions of public records (Excel, Adobe, Word, etc.) in that fashion. Current law gives the public he right to a copy, but allows the government unit the choice as to whether you get an electronic version through email or a paper copy the requester has to pick up at the government office.

Bill author is Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo.

HSPA supports H.B. 1258. Through a mix-up, bill didn’t get a hearing in the House, but Rep. Karickhoff plans to amend language into S.B. 392, authored by Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell. Sen. Niemeyer is OK with the plan.

Access to Public Records Act

S.B. 101 – This bill clarifies the information that the public has a right to request when a government unit disciplines a public employee. It helps Hoosiers determine whether the discipline was not merited, was too harsh, or too lenient, which could impact voting decisions. Bill author is Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel).

HSPA supports S.B. 101. Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, chair of the Senate Local Government Committee has told Sen. Delph that the bill will not get a hearing, which killed the bill.

S.B. 254 – This bill would require reports on job creation tied to economic development incentives given by state and local government units to private companies so that Hoosiers can determine whether the cost of economic development tax breaks and infrastructure improvements is appropriate to the boost in the economy created by the benefitting company. Bill author is Sen. Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond).

HSPA supports S.B. 254. Bill needed Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, to agree to give it a hearing in his Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee. Bill died for lack of a hearing.

H.B. 1066 – This bill may become the depository for language amending the APRA to create a consistent policy for the response to bulk records requests. The statute now doesn’t directly speak to that questions.

HSPA not opposed to concept, but will need to see what language may be inserted into H.B. 1066. Bill author is Rep. David Ober (R-Albion). HSPA has offered to help Rep. Ober craft needed language.

The bill did not get voted out of the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, which kills the bill.

Public Notice Advertising

H.B. 1107 – This bill would eliminate the publication requirement for state and local government units’ public notices. They would be removed from Indiana newspapers, read by 3 million adult Hoosiers at least once a week and places on multiple government websites the Hoosiers would have to routinely check to see what government activity might impact their lives or their community. Bill author is Rep. Doug Gutwein (R-Francesville).

HSPA opposes H.B. 1107. Rep. Gutwein has withdrawn this bill. He said his intent was to spark a dialogue about publication of public notice advertising in the committee he chaired, but not vote on the bill. The bill instead was assigned to the House Local Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola. Zent and Gutwein confirmed the bill will not get a hearing, which killed the bill.

S.B. 385 – This bill would restore the requirement that existed up to 2014 that local governments publish their proposed budgets and tax rate information in local newspapers prior to the hearing on that budget. The budgets were moved from newspapers to the website of the state Department of Local Government Finance, where 12,000 unique visitors saw them over all of 2017 compared to the 3 million Hoosier newspaper readers who no longer have the opportunity to see them in the local newspaper. Bill author is Sen. Sue Glick (R-LaGrange).

HSPA supports S.B. 385. Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomochair of the Senate Local Government Committee, informed HSPA he doesn’t intend to give S.B. 385 a hearing, which killed the bill.

H.B. 1004 – This local government bill includes a provision eliminating the requirement for cities and towns to publish in local newspapers their annual financial report. In the business world, corporations do annual reports so that shareholders can determine whether corporate leadership is performing in a fashion that leads them to want to continue to hold that stock, purchase additional stock, or sell the stock and invest elsewhere. For local governments, their residents are the “shareholders” who have a vested interest in how local elected officials are serving as stewards of their tax dollars.

But few residents know when annual reports are required to be completed and may have never heard of the state Department of Local Government Finance where to bill proposes to post these notices, let alone think to look on its website for a particular city or town’s report. Publication in the local paid-circulation newspaper places the information into the hands of Hoosiers, who may see the notice and decide to look at the details more closely. According to a survey conducted in 2017 by American Opinion Research, 63% of adult Hoosiers say they want public notices like the annual report published in local newspapers, even when told public notice advertising over the year may cost a government unit thousands of dollars. Bill author is Rep. Sally Siegrist, R-West Lafayette.

Offending language from H.B. 1004 was removed on a motion by the author, Rep. Siegrist in the House Select Committee on Government Reduction, chaired by Rep. Doug Gutwein, R-Francesville. Rep. David Wolkins, R-Lake Winona, successfully amended the bill asking a summer interim study committee examine whether publication of public notices should continue as Indiana policy.

H.B. 1005 – This township government bill includes a provision similar to H.B. 1004, only it concerns the annual report that township currently publish. All the arguments outlined for H.B. 1004, would apply to H.B. 1005. Bill author is Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville.

Offending language from H.B. 1005 was removed by Rep. Ziemke in the House Government and Regulatory Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City.

H.B. 1221 – This bill eliminates any requirements that a board of zoning appeals provide published notice before a hearing concerning an administrative appeal, exception, use or variance. The bill author is Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville.

HSPA opposes H.B. 1221. The bill has been assigned to the House Local Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola. Rep. Zent has indicated he will not give the bill a hearing, which would kill the bill.